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January 19, 2007

Bidders take a shine to silver beaker

NEW YORK - A 370-year-old silver beaker made in Newbury helped a Salem church strike gold yesterday at a New York auction.



Fourteen silver tankards, beakers and cups that were stored for centuries in the vaults of The First Church in Salem were sold for $787,800 at Christie's, the New York City auction house.



The top seller for the historic Salem church was a small silver cup made in 1670 by Jeremiah Dummer of Newbury, America's first native-born silversmith. The cup is not quite 5 inches tall and was given to the church by Francis Skerry, who ran a local malt house.



It was bought by an "anonymous collector" for $204,000, a Christie's spokeswoman said. It was expected to reach between $150,000 and $250,000.



Dummer's connection to Newbury is still felt today. He deeded a parcel of his Newbury farm to his son, who in turn donated it for the creation of a school. That school would eventually become The Governor's Academy.



Not all of the First Church's silver wound up in the hands of anonymous collectors. Some will be coming back to Salem.



The Peabody Essex Museum spent $102,000 for a silver flagon made in Salem in 1769 by John Andrew, the city's most important 18th century silversmith. The museum, which was represented by curator Dean Lahikainen, also bought two early 19th century silver canns, or mugs, made in Newburyport by Ebeneezer Moulton in 1805, according to a church official.



The auction was a bittersweet moment for church officials, several of whom were in attendance. They did not want to part with the valuable communion silver but said it was given years ago by church members to help in hard times and will be used on building improvements that are too costly for the church to finance on its own. Although the final figure is not known, the church is expected to receive more than $600,000 from the auction once Christie's takes its share of the sale price.



"I'm quite pleased we went ahead and did this," said the Rev. Jeffrey Barz-Snell, who was reached last night in New York. "It bodes well for the church, which is growing. It helps us make some (improvements) to the building that can help us survive."



The First Church, at 316 Essex St., was built in 1836 and is in need of major repairs, church officials said.



"I'm very happy," Barz-Snell said, "and, to be honest, I think the people who contributed the silver to the church would be pleased with what we're doing."



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